To cap off their first meaningful practice in nearly five months, the Vegas Golden Knights had a scrimmage.
The two groups totaled 31 players and practiced on both rinks at City National Arena on Monday. In a stretch of the 123 days that has been anything but ordinary since the NHL season paused due to COVID-19, it was the closest bit of normal any spectator could have hoped for.
That included some of the action during the scrimmage.
Mark Stone had been out since Feb. 28 due to a lower-body injury. Alex Tuch was out since Feb. 13 and wasn’t likely going to be back until well into the playoffs. Max Pacioretty was about to miss weeks. Yet there were all three, back on the ice for the first day of training camp to begin Phase 3 of the NHL’s Return to Play Plan.
It’s the first day of camp, and all results in such scrimmages should absolutely be taken seriously (where’s my sarcasm font?). Stone’s vision and high-IQ was back in some instances; Tuch scored two goals in 20 seconds, albeit on Oscar Dansk, and Pacioretty was alright.
But it was the fact that they were even on the ice to begin with that showed the Golden Knights are back at full strength. That’s something that could bode well for Vegas as it prepares for the third consecutive trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, all while constructing a roster that can very well compete for a Stanley Cup.
“You just want to stay [fully healthy] as much as possible, and you know that’s not realistic,” said Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer. “I think every coach is having the same conversations as we are; how do you get to that first game of the playoffs healthy and energized, with your game in a good place, but healthy?”
There was a small inkling as to what the lines will look like come Vegas’ first round robin game against the Dallas Stars on Aug. 3, with lines subject to change because a lot can happen in the coming 21 days. Stone and Pacioretty re-joined William Karlsson on the should-be top line, while Tuch took rushes with Chandler Stephenson and Nicolas Roy on the third line. Nick Cousins skated in-between William Carrier and Ryan Reaves in what could be the fourth line.
“It’s all about preparation,” said Vegas forward Jonathan Marchessault. “It’s the same thing as normal training camp. Today it felt pretty easy. Right now, we have an edge because we’ve been doing small practices the past few weeks. You get sore, but we’ve been through it already through scrimmaging. It’s all about getting that game speed back. I think in the long run, it’s going to pay off.”
Talks of how good the Golden Knights have been the past three seasons have always circled around depth, rolling four lines and three defensive pairs, and this unusual trip to the round of 16 will be no different.
The same goes for every other team the Golden Knights could see on their way to said Stanley Cup.
The defending Stanley Cup champions rode a miraculous wave of momentum, led by a rookie goaltender, to a championship. Ten games in this season, the Blues lost scoring dynamo Vladimir Tarasenko to shoulder surgery.
Tarasenko re-joins a balanced Blues scoring attack with Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron, Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz.
The Avs’ top line is back with the return of Mikko Rantanen. The forward had been sidelined since Feb. 17 with an upper-body injury. The good news for Colorado — they didn’t miss him, going 9-2-1 in the games leading to the pause. It’s a scary sight when he, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog are healthy.
You name it, Columbus had it. Seth Jones, Joonas Korpisalo, Cam Atkinson, Alex Texier, Elvis Merzlikins, Oliver Bjorkstrand. All lost to injury at some point. Yet they’re in the Stanley Cup qualifying round with a healthy roster.
Dougie Hamilton is back after breaking his leg in January. Don’t forget the bunch of jerks added Sami Vatanen at the trade deadline to (eventually) bolster the blue line.
Fleury not a participant Monday
Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury did not participate at practice Monday. DeBoer gave him a maintenance day due to how active of a participant he was during Phase 2 over the past month and change. There’s no timetable on when Fleury, the presumptive starter heading into the playoffs, will join the team, but DeBoer said he should be in camp this week.
Krebs to join Vegas on Tuesday
Prospect forward Peyton Krebs will be on the ice Tuesday with the Golden Knights after finishing his quarantine stint. Krebs, the 17th overall pick of last year’s draft, is not guaranteed any game time this summer, but the organization believes the experience will benefit him.
“I’m excited to see him,” said DeBoer, who wasn’t part of the organization when Vegas drafted him last summer. “He’s here for a reason. He’s earned the right to be a part of this. At worse case, this is going to be a great experience for him, and best case he comes in, shows his stuff and becomes a valuable part of the group.”